HM on location: AV technology revitalizes guest experience

The panelists gathered before the session.. From left: Pamela Taggart, senior director of strategic relationships, AVIXA; Cameron Lamming, president/COO, RAR Hospitality; Rebecca Lunceford, associate VP/design and development, Hyatt; Michael Suomi, principal, Stonehill Taylor; Christopher Troyer, area director/venues, PSAV; and Mary Malloy, event director for HOTEC Design. Photo credit: Jena Tesse Fox (AVIXA HOTEC Panel)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—On the heels of Hotel Management's launch of a hotel track at the recent AVIXA InfoComm 2019 in Orlando, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association sponsored a luncheon panel at the recent HOTEC Design conference here. Focusing on “The Guest Experience in the Audiovisual Age,” four industry insiders talked about how integrating audiovisual solutions in both hotel design and operations could improve both guest experiences and business outcomes.

Moderator Pamela Taggart, senior director of strategic relationships at AVIXA, started the panel off with a simple question: What is driving the adoption of AV technology in both the design and operation of hotels? Michael Suomi, principal/VP of interior design at New York-based interior and architectural firm Stonehill Taylor, suggested that several factors could be driving this growth. Guests have higher demands for their hospitality experience, and expect information at their fingertips from the moment they arrive to the moment they walk out the door at the end of their stay. “That’s the simplest use” for audiovisual technology, he said. The best use, on the other hand, transforms the space and the guest experience with unique interactive elements, like the former W Seoul Walkerhill in South Korea, with an art installation that flips wooden tiles in reaction to passers-by. 

Rebecca Lunceford, associate VP/design and development at Hyatt, agreed, noting the residential AV experience has been elevated in recent years. “Hotels are aspirational,” she said, and are “pushing the envelope” to add unique elements to guestrooms and public space that travelers can’t find at home. For example, at the Hotel Revival in Baltimore (a Joie de Vivre hotel affiliated with Hyatt's loyalty program), the design turned unused basement space into individual karaoke rooms with monitors and sound systems (as shown in the Instagram image below), generating revenue from formerly empty space and attracting new business. “We were able to use technology to take spaces that were once unused and not revenue-generating and … activate the space and create revenue generation [as well as] a differentiator.”


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Brands and Standards

With more brands on the hospitality landscape, AV as part of a standard also can be a a way for brands to create clear identities within their swim lanes, Suomi said.

Cameron Lamming, president/COO of RAR Hospitality—a third-party operator and owner with 19 hotels open and another three in the pipeline—has found ways to incorporate technology as a differentiator for individual hotels. RAR made some edits to the Fairfield Inn & Suites prototype—“much to Marriott’s chagrin,” he quipped—for a property by California State University San Marcos. “We adopted a bunch of robots,” he said, and the hotel is now locally famous for its room-cleaning robots. “It's the center of attention because there wasn’t anything differentiating us in the market, but now there is.” 

Suomi recounted working with Hyatt to recreate the prototype for the company’s upper-upscale Regency brand, when he recommended shrinking the guestroom to 285 square feet and installing a 72-inch television on the wall. “Everyone said we were crazy,” he recalled. But the large TV in the small guestroom made the space into a home theater, and the screen could take up a viewer’s full field of vision. Ultimately, Hyatt approved a 65-inch TV for the guestrooms, but now large-screens are ubiquitous in guestrooms across the upper-upscale chain scale.

Lamming did note the cost of incorporating technology, including audiovisual technology, into hotels can be a barrier. If the lifecycle of a hotel can be between three and five years, he said, adopting a lot of expensive technology may not be cost effective. On the other hand, he acknowledged, technology sometimes becomes a necessary expense depending on the targeted demographic. “For smaller hotels, [AV is] less about big, grandiose and the center of attention,” he said. “It’s more about targeted investments, and most of that comes from understanding your guests and targeting it toward who they are and their lifestyle.” AV, he said, should help guests better understand where they are and how to enhance their experience. “You don’t need a big projection wall. Instead, you can tailor some sort of experience in the room to show them the city a little bit better.” 

Related: AVIXA expands commitment to hospitality with HM, Questex

Flexibility and Functionality

Christopher Troyer, area director of venues for global event production company PSAV, emphasized AV in hospitality must balance functionality with flexibility, noting this is where smart design comes into play. At one property he covers, Troyer wanted to set up a large screen with numerous projectors, but the event space has numerous chandeliers that would get in the way of the projections. Fortunately, the room was designed to be flexible and the chandeliers could be removed so they wouldn’t be in the way. “If they couldn’t be removed, we’d lose the bid,” he said.

The rise of LED lighting in hotels also means designers and event producers can create customized colors for event spaces, he added. “It allows us to be specific for a client.”

Ultimately, he said, over-designing a space can be the biggest problem to overcome. “Have a space where people will bump into each other so they can have a connection,” he advised the 200 designers and suppliers in the room. “Think about what you want to happen in that room.” If the designer can save $10,000 on microphone inputs, he added, that’s $10,000 that can go toward a top-notch pre-function space. 

Over-designing is even more tempting—and even more dicey—in guestrooms. “Make sure it’s intuitive to a guest,” Lunceford advised, noting guests who can’t figure out how to turn off the lights or order room service will not have a good experience. “If we, as seasoned travelers have experienced that, imagine how awful it is for once-a-year travelers,” she said, cautioning guests should never feel “shamed” by technology they don’t know how to use. Instead, letting them engage with the technology at-will for a positive experience will give them a feeling of a “reward.” 

Lamming agreed, noting every aspect of a hotel—from its initial design to its daily operation—has to revolve around understanding what guests want. “What hotels have done poorly—and are changing—is understanding the lifestyle of guests as opposed to just their age and location,” he said. Toward this, as hotels incorporate new audiovisual technology, they will need to ask some basic questions for each decision: “Will this connect with that guest to create an automatic sense of loyalty, and will it bring in a sense of excitement to create an experience?”